Nothing is more remarkable among the many changes that have crept into this end of the century in England than our growing love for, and adoption of, Hotel life and comforts. Our forefathers knew no Hotel save Home, and growled and grumbled with rare incision whenever fate or fortune led them to "camp out." In truth, there was good reason for their protests, and their praises of the comforts of Home; for in those severe days of Spartan simplicity there were no Hotels worth the name. The cosy Country Inn yet had its old-fashioned charm, but half a century ago, it is safe to say, there were no Hotels, as we understand the word, at all in London. However, first the Continent and then America spoke to us; we travelled and gradually got over our insular prejudices, faced the fact that Home Cookery could be fairly beaten by experts, and that the "Hotel de Luxe" was the future Home of the coming race. Then began the great springing up of Hotels in London, chiefly round and about Charing Cross; and to crown the series we make bold claim to say our Savoy stands as the highest and most renowned of all these later-day Public Palaces.
It is one of the recognised delights of the educated Londoners and the cultured visitors of all nations who come to our town, to sit, as we will imagine ourselves sitting now, on the famous Savoy balcony, by this beautiful bend of the River Thames. We are looking over the noblest river and garden view that the ever-broadening stream can give us as it collects its mighty energies together for its last sweep seaward. Far up to the right of the mystic monolith that claims to be Cleopatra's Needle, the river curves through Westminster Bridge, past the Houses of Parliament, past Lambeth Palace, until it is lost in the silver distance, where, on a fine day, we can catch a glimpse of the undulating Surrey Hills and the Towers of Sydenham. To the left it flows past the Temple to where St. Paul's "looms like a bubble o'er the town," and the grim, square Tower of London makes feeble effort at a sullen frown. There is no view like it in London; none that I know of in Europe can match with it; and it is a view that can never be ruthlessly "built out" -- for the gardens of the people that lie between us and the water are leased to London for ever and a day.
Whether glistening in sunlight, white with snow, or gleaming at night-fall with myriads of yellow lights, as it were a scattered necklace of yellow topaz, the Savoy view is ever unique, and, as you see, is as immortal as London itself.
Now, while you discuss the good things of culinary art, set before you by this skilled staff of waiters, let me tell you something of the history and the wonders of this ambitious and successful scheme. The original aims were indeed of the magnificent order, quite such as would have delighted the heart of old Egypt's Queen of Luxury whose signature in stone faces us, and the undoubted success of the Savoy in its efforts to cater for the cultured is now part of London history.
The cachet that attaches to the Savoy has been recognised by modern journalists of all nationalities. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from the impression produced in the keen mind of M. Arthur Heulhard, of the staff of the Paris Figaro, in his interesting articles on La Saison: -- " Quel rôle il joue maintenant dans la 'season,' ce fantastique Savoy! On ne la conçoit plus sans lui. Il l'a, pour ainsi dire, renouvelée en suspendant la vie intime du ' home ' pour y substituer la vie extérieure, dans une mesure eléganté polie et discrète, qui devait abattre les scrupules de l'aristocratie anglaise. Le Savoy n'est pas seulement le prototype de l'hôtel 'aesthetic' comme on l'entend aujourd'hui. Par son Restaurant, il est une exception dans le monde; pour le high-life, il fait positivement partie des monuments publics."
Let me throw a little more light on my enthusiastic confrère's amiable criticism. "We will go just as far as we can," said the original little band of popular pioneers, including our great composer, Sir Arthur Sullivan, Mr. T. P. Chappell, the music publisher, Mr. Michael Gunn, proprietor of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, and Mr. R. E. Fenwick, ship and colliery owner, with Mr. D'Oyly Carte at their head, when they laid prophetic eyes on the historic plot of ground under your feet that had been lying a waste and a wilderness for fourteen years. Wisely rejecting their first idea of building residential flats, they soon elaborated the initial notion of a vast Hotel and Restaurant. The Hotel, of which we will first treat, was designed to embrace suites of rooms, each suite compact, comfortable, and complete in itself, such as exist in a few Continental Hotels, and generally in all the great Hotels of the greatest hotel country in the world, America. Accordingly, the Savoy, on the Hotel side, where there are no kitchens, is laid out in such suites right up to the top; a suite comprises private sitting-room or rooms, one or more bed-rooms, private bath-room, lavatory, etc. Each set is thus a little home in itself. They are all equally good; those nearest the sky are just as spacious and lofty as those on the ground floor, and are furnished with equal elegance. That is why the charge is the same for a set just under the roof, and if you elect to live "up aloft" you get the benefit of the larger view and the clearer air, and no "getting-up stairs" dread need deter you from so bold a flight, for "giant lifts" or "ascending rooms," made by the American Elevator Company, are ready to take you up and down at all hours of the day or night. They never stop, they are absolutely safe, and the transit from earth to the realms above is swift, smooth, and pleasant. This is decidedly the finest elevator service yet seen on this side of the Atlantic.
The continuity of supply and force is a remarkable feature. There is a continuous and unfailing supply of hot and cold soft water right through the vast structure. There is a continuous supply of electric light; this Hotel was the first to introduce an all-night service of light, and the lamps used are not the old glaring ceiling lights, but delicately shaded lights placed half-way up the wall, and a shaded lamp for each bedside; so that the oft-maligned man who "reads in bed" can do so with easy comfort, and with no fear of setting himself, his sheets, or his fellow-guests on fire. As for the water supply, seeing that our picturesque Thames is, with all due respect to the Water Companies, more artistic than sanitary, the Company sunk an artesian well, over 420 feet deep, whence they draw clear, cold, soft, pure drinking water, no despicable boon, ready filtered by Nature herself; this supply is also constant and unvarying, and the whole chain of continuity is set in motion by the special machinery contained in one engine-house -- the great pulsating heart of the huge frame -- that never ceases its labours. Thus we see that science gives to the Savoyard dominion over the true "slaves of the lamp," as well as over the powers of water, and the occult gift of "levitation!"
For these things, and for constant skilled attendance, they make no charge whatever. The old Hotel notion of exacting special payment for the three necessaries of life: baths, lights, and attendance, is happily abolished, and the prices of the rooms are arranged so as to cover all these antique "extras."
Should the guest desire strict privacy, he or she can communicate by a speaking-tube with the Restaurant side, and breakfasts, luncheons, dinners -- anything from a cup of tea to a "cocktail" from the American bar -- will come in the twinkling of an Embankment lamp. This, the Hotel side, stands to the right and front of the great Central Courtyard of 6,000 square feet. Here, surrounded by palms and flowers, and the tall white walls of tiles, a fountain splashes idly all day, at night gleaming with magic lights, and ever providing a resting place for all who desire al fresco quiet. As you look at these high white walls you can be serenely conscious that no fear of fire can disturb your meditations. There is no room for the fire-demon here, for you are living in a house which is practically made of incombustible materials throughout. All floors and partitions are made of cement concrete, and there is no wood in the building save in the doors and window frames, and the rich deep mahogany panels of the Restaurant where you are now sitting. Moreover, as a further assurance, you learn that there is not a spot in the building from whence there are not two or more exits in diverse directions. Solidly and scientifically constructed by the best experts of the day in all their various departments, the artistic side has received worthy recognition. Note the warm panelling of the Restaurant already mentioned, that makes the popular place so cheerful and cosy in the evenings, the ever-varying designs and decorations that embellish the sumptuous suites, the attractive comfort of every piece of furniture, the pervading sense of graceful pride that the Savoy seems to take in itself, and you will be quick to recognise that no time, thought, nor money has been spared to bring the whole environment into happy harmony.
Another interesting picture consists of the continuous balconies circling every story, railed off for each separate set of rooms, from each of which you can pleasure yourself with the ever-changing aspects of the great River view. Billiard-rooms, a Ball-room suited for Private Theatricals, Hair-dressing Saloons, Ticket Offices for all manner of ticket issues, be it to New York by the next "ocean greyhound," or to a theatre by the nearest hansom, are all to be found on the Courtyard level, and, in short, the Genius of Civilisation seems to have come to the Savoy, and "come to stay."
Now let us turn to the Restaurant. Here we have the cult of la haute cuisine brought to the highest pitch of perfection. When the Savoy was opened, there was a great want of a rendezvous specially adapted to the nice requirements of the true connoisseur, one to attract the most wealthy transient and resident population, and making special appeal to the group of "the best people"; and though the number of first-class restaurants has increased and multiplied since, incited thereto by the success of the Savoy, founded on its methods, and copying its leading features, the Savoy still stands "unique," and is admitted to be at the very top as regards perfection of cuisine -- the haute cuisine of France, mind, and none other. A feature of the greatest importance and advantage to the Savoy Restaurant, one which it alone in London enjoys, is that the kitchen is on the same floor as the Restaurant, and only separated from it by a Service Room of about 18 feet across: which room is provided with independent ventilation, and hot plates. Thus, the dishes can be placed with exceptional rapidity fresh from the hands of the Chef on to the table of the consumer. As all gourmets know, with many of the products of the haute cuisine this means salvation, and the inevitable delay of getting up stairs or up lifts means destruction. Furthermore, and of hardly less consequence, by this construction all kitchen smells in the Restaurant are absolutely avoided. All who know what good cooking is, to what perfection the "Geste culinaire" can be brought by master-minds, and what well-chosen wines in perfect condition are, have brought in a verdict in favour of the Savoy cookery. It is quite the fashion for the frequenters of the Savoy to take the excellent déjeuner, or dinner, or supper of the day in preference to ordering separate dishes, for they repose, and wisely repose, trust in the watchful management that day by day plans and produces these charming little feasts, and a host can ask the most fastidious of his friends to eat with him at a moment's notice, conscious that no plat will be set before them save such as has received the cachet of the culinary authorities -- a body of officers much too proud of their art to peril their well-won reputation by the slightest error. If the noble order of the "Blue Cord" could, with strict historic propriety, be worn by them, it should of right decorate every white-aproned member of this unique staff.
Come with me and take a peep "behind the scenes" of this Temple of Gastronomy. The great Chef has no less than thirty-six sous-chefs under his command, to say nothing of the lesser rank and file of assistants; and he it is who gives daily and nightly design to the ever-changing table attractions. He serves, in the Restaurant alone, some 250 dinners a day, a like proportion of "little suppers." He is particular to a nicety in all matters of minute detail; so much so, that if he can't get the exact right sort of small white turnip he wants in England he promptly sends to France for it. With him we visit his kitchens, or rather, his laboratories -- all is clean, bright, and scientifically "up to date." Here he works his spells, using gas, coal, wood, and steam as various heat-producers. Here is he the Lord of the Furnaces, who can grill a split smelt as deftly as he could roast a whole ox. The mysteries are explained to us; the hot tables, the neat discipline that obliges your waiter not only to give your order, but to wait for its prompt execution, and bring your pet plat back to you with the rapidity and devotion of a Queen's Messenger, and the perfect system of divided labour. Each cook is a specialist and has a function peculiar to himself. The tiniest bit of fantastic pâtisserie, the smallest scrap of crystallised fruit, are each and all made at home by specialists. The carefully-selected food of the day lies in cool grottos of ice, and as we move from grill to furnace, from kitchen to kitchen -- for there are many of them -- we recognise that our Master Cook has complete control of the rival powers of heat and cold. His cooks seem to share his spirit of enthusiasm -- one of the Savoy secrets of success. Your gourmet may come here with confidence, may invent, suggest and design for himself, and the six-and-thirty cooks will give noble expression to his wildest imaginings. Just a story as an example. A famous sporting wager included, as a condition of the bet, an obligation on behalf of the winner to give to a select dozen of friends "the very best dinner in London." The order for the banquet was given carte blanche to the Savoy. It was, of course, a perfect marvel; and what with the wines, and the exotic flowers, and growing fruit trees, and a veritable picnic parterre of real grass, and the absolute best of everything, the bill for that dinner crept up honestly to £15 a head. This shows you how far the Kings of Extravagance can go when in the mood. But a more sensible point is that the very next day these self-same monarchs lunched, with gentler emphasis, on the balcony for a few modest shillings. Here you can be as moderate as a monk or as luxurious as Lucullu ; can feast or fast with equal pleasure at your will, and play the Spartan or the Sybarite as your conscience and your appetite dictate. This is the true Savoy cult.
The cuisine is cosmopolitan, the foods of almost all nations, and their special methods of preparation, being at your command; but the dominant tone, the "note" of the work, is High-class French.
The list of the habituées of the Savoy includes the names of some of the highest in the land. Not only the magnates of the nobility, but Princes and Princesses, Royalty itself, frequently find their way to the House on the Thames, and always express themselves as having been as right royally served as is their due; indeed, during the Season there is almost a Club-like character about the place, so esteemed is it of the wisest fashionables of our day and generation. It is a place where the passing visitor from foreign shores is certain to see important "somebodies," and "personages" of note and distinction in art and letters, as well as social standing. It is a centre where the curious in such matters can see modern life at its best, and you may rest assured that when you are at the Savoy you are of necessity in good company.
The Savoy can fairly lay social claim to the old classic text, and vaunt as its motto, "Noscitur a sociis." * This means, my fair readers, in more homely Anglo-Saxon, that "all the birds of the very best feathers here flock together." It is for you to judge of the beautiful building of their nest. (* A latin term for 'it is known by the company it keeps.')
Homes of the Passing Show, "The Savoy Hotel and Restaurant", 1900, By W. C. K. W.
(William Charles Kingsbury Wilde (1852-1899), Oscar Wilde's brother.)
Note. -- This article has previously appeared in the Pall Mall Magazine, and is reproduced by kind permission of the Editor and of Mr. and Mrs. Penneli. The article signed W.C.K.W. has also previously appeared; but all the other articles have been specially written for this little book.
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